November 30, 2008
After conferring with most helpful met-man Reg (?) on monday afternoon, we decided to ‘enjoy’ the good calm weather, with little wind forcast for tuesday, on the Island, and leave on wednesday, early, with a northeasterly to push us back to the mainland.Tuesday morning dawned fine, still heavy rollers breaking on the reef and choppy in the lagoon. Three other sailboats left on the high tide; to Tasmania, to New Zealand and to Sydney. They wallowed and pitched their way slowly into the distance. We went ashore. We walked. We explored the ‘bush’. We snorkelled in the shallow water at Neds Beach and fed the fish, tame as pets, who had grown enormous on a regular diet of stale bread every day, by the tourists. We arranged with Richard, Police and Customs, who had escorted us in, to escort us out again and then returned to Sea Eagle to prepare for sailing.Early up and ready when Richard called on the VHF. He decided that the tide was high enough and that we were competent enough to not need escorting, but he would guide us from the shore. We retraced our route, heading just west of two tall Norfolk pines, and then sharp to starboard with the pines lined up astern. A navigating ancestor had planted those trees many years ago to mark the channel, and there they stand, tall and perfectly aligned. No grounding, no worries and out to deep water and ‘thankyou and see you next time’. We headed south to begin with, to round the extraordinary Balls Pyramid, rising near-vertically 700 meters. Thousands upon thousands of seabirds, wheeling in the air and fishing in the turbulent waters where the ocean currents met the rock. We hoisted sail in the lee of the rock and headed WSW, goal Broken Bay and Pittwater, just north of Sydney. Plenty of wind for partially-reefed sails and Sea Eagle, and we, thrived. Marks on the chart for 4-hour runs showed excellent progress until the evening when the wind gradually died away to nothing at 2 am and the engine was started.Thursday at 11, there was enough wind from the north to just fill the sails, and then it gradually strengthened. Off engine and new good progress. That night the wind gradually increased, first to 20 kt and we reduced sail by taking down the mizzen, then to 30 kt in the gusts and more reefing. Big swells from the NE meant a very rolypoly ride. The autopilot couldn’t cope so we hand-steered. It was very dark, no stars to steer by! Then the wind vane and speed transmitter at the top of the mast decided it had had enough, and turned upsidedown. Confusing information. Two-hour sessions at steering were quite enough. An overcast dawn brought some relief, and gradually brighter weather raised our spirits.16:00 Friday, wind inadequate to maintain 4 kts speed so decided to help with the engine. It wouldnt’t start! John tried everything, but the symptoms were of low batteries, whichever battery was tried. Odd, since we’d had the engine on several hours yesterday. We’ve experienced this before, twice. Sail on and ponder. Without the wind generator we would risk having no electrical power at all soon, so it was back to hand sailing, in the dark, with only the masthead light showing. No ships in sight luckily. No power also means no pumps for water etc. Saturday morning the wind died again, and John dismantled the startmotor to see if the problem lay there. It had obviously been very hot, but apparently otherwise OK. A rather amusing scene in retrospect. Sea Eagle still rolling and pitching well. John, sitting on the floor wedged in one corner of the wheelhouse, with startmotor-pieces in a sheet between his knees, and Margaret in the opposite corner catching tools and pieces which escaped. A thorough clean didn’t help, and still no start-life.We ghosted on towards the coast. Or goal would be very tricky without an engine, so we decided to head for Newcastle, where there probably was tow-help. VHf contact established about twenty miles out and, yes, Coastal Patrol could tow us from inside the harbour entrance, (their limit), to the marina. Relief! Thundery, unstable weather produced variable-direction strong winds and much rain, and we raced towards Newcastle. In sight of the of the seawall a major storm blotted out everything, including the wind. When the rain cleared, we could see Coastal Patrol, and they could see us. We chatted over the VHF while they patiently waited for Sea Eagle to drift round the entrance marker and at last within reach. Di, a robust and authoritative lady, was in charge, effectively. Slowly past pubs and restaurants on the waterfront, in full Saturday-night raucousness. The cross-harbour ferry passed our bows, and one passenger decided he could get to the beer quicker by swimming and hopped overboard. Di was not impressed!19:00, Saturday 29 november, we tied up to the end of A-arm in Newcastle Yacht Club Marina. We had arrived! Lots of information from Di, and following heartfelt thanks to her and her two crew, all volunteers, we did a quick wash-and-brush-up and retired to a good meal in the pub across the road. By 21:30 we were in bed and soundly asleep.